How can I start losing my pandemic weight?

Man sitting on a couch with a laptop and a dog

Being just a few yards or a room away from your refrigerator for much of the day can be dicey.

As many of us spend more time at home, either working or looking for work, we’re no longer in the routines that kept us out of the house, miles away from our refrigerators and cupboards.

Eating out of boredom or to ease our stress may not be your only hurdle. Some have been drinking more since the pandemic began. High in calories, alcohol can also trigger higher levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can cause you to gain belly weight.

Sure, exercise is part of the solution, but some of us are still on hiatus from our gyms, not quite comfortable to return and be so close to others huffing through their workouts. Homes don’t always have room for exercising inside, and the weather might deter you from an outdoor workout.

There’s a whole lot of reasons why you may have recently stood atop your bathroom scale dismayed or even aghast. And it always seems the road to shedding those pounds is longer than the shortcut we took to put them on.

Here are some tips I offer my patients:

Be aware of when you’re eating because you’re bored, angry or lonely

Sometimes we try to eat our way through difficult feelings, turning to an appealing food like chocolate or macaroni and cheese to soothe ourselves rather than express our sadness, anger or fear. Suppressing rather than letting those feelings out can leave us feeling guilty or depressed. And the calories can add up.

When you reach for something to eat, ask yourself: Am I really hungry? Or am I angry, lonely, bored or sad? It’s important to first be aware of when and how often you’re eating for emotional reasons rather than because you’re hungry. Seeing a mental health professional could help you address the main reason for your emotional eating.

How to practice mindful eating

Limit comfort foods

Comfort food can be a go-to during stressful times. When I talk about comfort food, I’m referring to foods high in sugar and/or fat, such as fried foods and foods high in carbs. Heavy on the calories and light on the nutrients, these foods can trigger memories of grandparents or parents, people who loved us and prepared us those foods.

Foods high in sugar and fat can decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies, so I can understand why you may turn to comfort foods to feel better. However, you’re not doing yourself a favor. In the short term, comfort food may satisfy us; in the long term, if you have a lot of it and often, soon you could be searching for the next clothes size up.

Good fats vs. bad fats

Limit how much alcohol you drink

Alcohol can carry a lot of calories. The standard 12-ounce beer is 150 calories. Light beers are about 100 calories. Hard liquor is even higher in calories. Calories correlate with the percentage of alcohol in the drink; the higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories.

Some use alcohol to cope, essentially when self-soothing themselves. Working from home might encourage you to rationalize your drinking: Even if you get a hangover, you don’t have to drive in to work. It can be the perfect environment to encourage excess – drinking and eating.

Drinking too much during the pandemic? Here’s how to cut back

Determine if it’s the right time to diet

The main reason people gain weight is stress. And going on a diet can increase your stress as you count calories and focus on what to eat and what to stay away from. So, dieting when you’re already under a lot of stress could lead to more weight gain. It can be a catch-22. I always try to assess someone’s stress first before advising them on dieting. If you’re under a lot of stress, I might recommend you wait to start the diet when your stress levels go down.

Reasons your diet probably won’t work

Be patient with yourself — losing weight can take a while

The number one question my colleagues and I get is “How long will it take to lose weight?” There’s a certain number of calories you need to maintain your body weight. If you decrease that by 500 calories a day or 3,500 calories a week, you lose about a pound a week or 4 to 5 pounds a month. The heavier you are, the faster your metabolism, so people struggling with obesity may lose weight faster, trimming down a half pound to 2 pounds a week.

I typically ask people wanting to start a diet to first track the food they eat for three to four days. That will help them see where the calories are coming from. Is it in drinking? Or fast food? Or overeating at night?

Then we start looking at what could be changed — switching to a diet soda or — even better — water. Eating out less often could trim calories as well. And we look at activity, too. How can you fit in a half hour of exercise a day? Even a walk can help.

Why and how to start an at-home workout

Healthy eating is within your reach!

Make an appointment with our dietitians or nutritionists.

Schedule an appointment

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